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Champions Visit State Capitol

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HARRISBURG, Pa. - Penn State hit the state capitol today for an afternoon of recognition, celebrating Nittany Lion conference champion student-athletes and head coaches following a record-setting 2016-17 season both in competition and in the classroom.

Joined by select head coaches and staff members as well as student-athletes, the group toured through the Pennsylvania House and Senate, stopping in for lunch with Sen. Jake Corman in his office. Penn State then made its way to the floor of the Pennsylvania Senate before remarks from Corman, welcoming the group to the state's capitol following a few early proceedings.

Penn State then made its way to the floor of the Pennsylvania House, which holds all 203 members, including Pennsylvania's Rep. Mike Hanna, Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, Rep. Rich Irvin and Rep. Scott Conklin, who read a resolution to again welcome and congratulate the Nittany Lions on an all-around successful season, one that drew a standing ovation from the members on the floor. 

"I want to congratulate the teams for not only what they do on the field but what they do in the community, the outreach they give, the coaches who oversee them," Conklin said. 

Nittany Lion director of athletics Sandy Barbour only echoed the all-around success in her remarks in the main rotunda later in the afternoon, noting that the individuals surrounding her representing a combined 2016-17 total of nine conference titles, among a few other crowns, are only one part of the story.

Penn State was recently slated fourth in the first spring update of the Learfield Directors' Cup standings following a year that saw seven Nittany Lion squads earn Big Ten Championships or tournament titles in seven sports, the most of any league institution and the third-highest total in school history.

As head coach Cael Sanderson brought instantaneous cheers from the floor of the Pennsylvania house upon his introduction, the room was reminded of Nittany Lion wrestling team's stunning second consecutive NCAA Wrestling Championship, marking its sixth in the last seven years, with five individuals earning NCAA titles along the way.

As Barbour pointed out though, the impact of the Blue and White extends much further than excellence in competition.

Nearly a month ago, a school record 114 Penn State student-athletes graduated, bringing the 2016-17 total to 142, with more students on track to cross the stage in August. Penn State also revealed its 89 percent NCAA Graduation Success Rate this year, which stands just one point below its all-time program mark. 

"Penn State student-athletes, not unlike their student colleagues and their servant hearts, have dedicated themselves to service," Barbour said. "Our student-athletes served over 6,200 hours of community engagement this last year. This comprehensive excellence is embraced by our Penn State and Pennsylvania community. It's truly Penn State's point of difference. It has historically motivated a state and a community, connected passionately to each and every one of our programs and each and every one of our student-athletes who wear the Blue and White."

Representative of just a small piece of a variety of community engagement close to Penn State student-athletes is THON, a beloved annual event that encompasses the entire university and Happy Valley community.

Led by the efforts of the Penn State Student Athlete Advisory Board, SAAB raised $59,679.49 for THON in 2017, which ranked third among the 400-plus general organizations represented. Surging past a fundraising goal of $50,000, the 2017 figure is SAAB's second-largest total in the history of the organization, adding to a career total of $680,000, all for THON and the Four Diamonds Fund, with four Penn State student-athletes joining the 703 dancers on the floor this year.

Among those dancers this year was women's soccer's Megan Schafer, a Big Ten Champion from Langhorne, who joined the group today for her second trip to state capitol, but first as a Nittany Lion. 

"A couple of years ago I got recognized for winning a state championship, so I think it's pretty cool coming back at the collegiate level to get recognized for our hard work all season," Schafer said. "I think it's really cool everything that people put together just to recognize us today."

Prior to Penn State, Schafer scored the overtime game-winner to lead Neshaminy high school (also the alma mater of Penn State head football coach James Franklin) to a Pennsylvania state title.

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The entire group of Nittany Lion coaches and student-athletes were treated to a personal meeting with Gov. Tom Wolf, who stopped by the steps of the main rotunda to greet the champions before heading back to Happy Valley.

Perfect Ending for Nittany Lion National Champions

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By Arielle Sargent, GoPSUSports.com

ST. LOUIS - It was a perfect night for Penn State wrestling in nearly every sense of the term perfection, as the Nittany Lions powered to a jaw-dropping 5-0 mark in the 2017 NCAA Championship Finals, only adding on to a previously clinched seventh NCAA title in program history.

With NCAA crowns in six of the last seven seasons including the last two in a row, Penn State brought the 19,657 fans at the Scottrade Center to the edge of their seats and on to their feet in an emotional outing that saw five Nittany Lion finalists earn NCAA championship titles.

Penn State's five NCAA national champions marks just the third time that a DI team has seen five individuals earn NCAA titles, and the first since Oklahoma State did so in 2005.

Having already secured the team title in the earlier session Saturday afternoon, Penn State bolstered its score to a Nittany Lion record-setting 146.5 points, finishing well ahead of second-place Ohio State (110) and third-place Oklahoma State (103).

Among the Nittany Lion national champions, All-Americans Bo Nickal (184), Jason Nolf (157) and Zain Retherford (149) combined for a total of 82.5 points, which would have placed the trio sixth overall in the final team standings.

Penn State also made history with All-Americans, true freshman Mark Hall (174) and redshirt freshman Vincenzo Joseph (165) earning their first titles to become the first freshmen NCAA champions in program history.

Top-seeded Retherford opened Penn State's stunning streak with an 18-2 technical fall at the 6:42 mark against Missouri's No. 3 Lavion Mayes. Unphased by an early Mayes takedown, Retherford built a 6-2 lead with more than two minutes of riding time by the end of the second period before breaking open the scoring in the third period to earn his second consecutive NCAA title as well as both 2017 NCAA Championships Most Outstanding Wrestler and Most Dominant Wrestler honors.

Fellow No. 1 seed Nolf followed with a 14-6 major decision against Missouri's No. 3 Joey Lavallee, using a tricky late takedown to take control of a 6-1 lead heading into the third period. There was no stopping Nolf in the final frame though, as he rolled to his first career NCAA title. 

It was third-seeded Joseph (165) who then set deciding tone for the Nittany Lions, pinning Illinois' top-seeded two-time NCAA champion Isaiah Martinez in a matchup that will likely be imprinted in the minds of the Nittany Lion faithful long after tonight. Heading into the third period with 1:05 in riding time and tied at 5-5, Joseph proved calm under pressure, confidently turning Martinez for the fall at 5:25 to send Nittany Lions at the Scottrade Center into a frenzy. 

"I was confident going in," Joseph said. "Even after I gave up that first takedown I was, like, they went to review it. I went back, talked to my coaches. First thing I said to them was: I'm scoring soon. I could feel it starting to open up, and I knew I was going to get to my attack soon. Get an opportunity there." 

In a rematch of the Big Ten Championship Finals, Hall used a late takedown with fewer than 25 seconds on the clock to defeat Ohio State's No. 3 Bo Jordan to become the second freshman NCAA national champion.

"It's a tough tournament," Hall said. "I've wrestled a lot of places. This is one of the tougher places. There are a lot of people out there. I've wrestled around the world, different people, different countries and the important thing, just have fun. I told myself over and over as soon as the negative thought came into my mind, I replaced it with Jesus loves you, NCAA champion, over and over." 

In yet another highly anticipated matchup, No. 2 Nickal (184) battled top-seeded Gabe Dean from Cornell. Keeping it close throughout, Nickal worked from behind with a takedown in the second period, which was challenged but confirmed with :41 left in the frame. Arriving back within one, 4-3 off the escape, Nickal held on for the close victory.

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Bonus points and records aside though, long before the streak of five consecutive finals wins and the pure dominance across the last three days, the Nittany Lions have been putting in some serious work, and there's no better place than Happy Valley to train for greatness on a daily basis. As Nickal says, excellence breeds excellence. 

"That's what we're doing at Penn State," Nickal said. "So each and every group that we get is top notch. A kid not only as a wrestler but as a person, and I feel that really is what's going to make the difference over the long run. I mean, there's a lot of talent out there but at Penn State, we get the right kinds of people and kids with character. That shows. You see kids coming in like Nick Suriano, Mark Hall, Vincenzo [Joseph], kids coming in, winning at the highest levels."

Training together among a wealth of talent at both the collegiate and international, professional level, the progress is all part of a legacy the Nittany Lions add on to every day, developing closer as true family unit.

"It's competitive," Hall said, reflecting on the atmosphere inside the Penn State wrestling room. "We have days where I might not get a takedown. We have days where some of our best guys are struggling. And it's just because we're all so good. We're so good out here, but when we're in the room it's like you're just another guy. There's no favoritism. We're all one."

For head coach Cael Sanderson, who has now guided the Nittany Lions to six NCAA Championships in eight years at the helm of the program, this one is special.

"I'm still kind of like it's just crazy because usually you have somebody lose or something doesn't go right, and as a competitor your heart is always with the kid that doesn't reach his goal," Sanderson said.

There were no somber moments for the Nittany Lions Saturday night. Instead, there was euphoria and celebration, but most importantly, gratitude. 

"I mean our guys are pretty good, as you can see," Nolf said." We've got five guys in the finals back to back to back to back to back. So those guys are definitely some of the toughest guys I get to wrestle. We get to learn each other's - how we wrestle. We're continuously evolving because we're competitive and we want to keep getting better and better and we all just help each other do that."


Reach Arielle at ans26@psu.edu or follow on Twitter at @arielle_sargent

NCAA Championships: Session V Highlights

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By Arielle Sargent, GoPSUSports.com

ST. LOUIS - Penn State's Nick Nevills highlighted session five with a fifth-place finish in the NCAA DI Wrestling Championships, adding on to an All-America finish in his first-career tournament appearance. 

Although marking his first time competing on the mats on the biggest stage, Nevills has been a regular at the annual event since seventh grade. 

While some families prefer sunny beaches or theme parks, the NCAA Wrestling Championships is the annual family vacation spot for the Nevills. Along with brothers Zach, A.J. and Seth, mom Kerri and dad Wayne, the Nevills' made their first trip to the NCAA Wrestling Championships in 2010 in Omaha, Nebraska. 

Flash forward a few years as Nick Nevills was poised to settle his collegiate choice, eventually completing a standout high school career at Clovis high school with four straight California state titles among a plethora of honors and accolades.

Having attended a camp at another Big Ten school, Nevills and his mom rented a car and drove to Penn State for a visit. A Clovis, California native, Nevills picked Penn State, with older brother Zach already on the roster at Stanford.

As Kerri and Wayne recall, it was Zach who started the Nevills family wrestling tradition and Nick, who followed close behind along the same wrestling path. Younger brother A.J. will soon join the Nittany Lion roster with Seth still in high school, having recently become the fifth wrestler to win titles after his first three seasons at Clovis. 

Since arriving at Penn State though, Nick Nevills' path hasn't been without a few road blocks along the way. Having never really experienced an injury, Nevills stepped up to overcome the unfamiliar. At full strength to start the season, Nevills put together a 12-2 regular season dual record with a 7-2 mark in conference action this year. Nevills also went 4-1 to finish third at the Big Ten Championships (285), tallying three pins along the way.

On Thursday, Nevills was set to make a different kind of trip to the NCAA Wrestling Championships. By Saturday afternoon, in a rematch of his earlier quarterfinal bout, Nevills rallied to defeat Duke's No. 4 Jacob Kasper for a 4-3 sudden victory and a fifth-place finish in session five. At 5-2 in his first NCAA Tournament, Nevills closed out the season at 25-8 overall with seven pins, as one of six All-America honorees in the lineup this year.

"I'm just glad I was able to go out there and get the win and wrestle hard," Nevills said. "He took me down right at the end of the first period and I just knew from that point I was going to have to wrestle a little bit harder and pick up the pace and that's what I did and it got me the win." 

Taking just a brief moment to reflect, the 2017 NCAA Championships have already been an experience he'll take so much from moving forward.

"It's exciting, a really good experience and I have a lot to take away from this," Nevills said. "I have a lot to build on through the next year and just really looking forward to the offseason growth that I have because I can get better in every area and that's an exciting factor. I don't think I'm anywhere near my potential or my ceiling so that's a really good feeling and I'm really looking forward to working with the coaches and the guys on the team."

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Surrounded by the endless support of his family, Nevills also got to watch oldest brother Zach (184), make his first NCAA Championships debut in his final season with the Cardinal.

"It was awesome getting to see him wrestle and getting to see him do something that he's always wanted to do and getting to see my brothers and family in the stands when I walked out and they were just out there supporting me, texting me and telling me they loved me and they were praying for me," Nevills said. "It was just awesome to be able to compete in front of them."

Another piece of the Nevills family trip to the NCAA Wrestling Championships is friendly competition, or "Master of the Universe," which originated from the first trip to Omaha. A fantasy-style draft from the NCAA Championships field, the highly anticipated tradition has some pretty extensive rules that have evolved over time, but all in good fun. Encompassing the entire family as well as close friends, the winner emerges with a trophy, even engraved with family names on the bottom. 

While not participating in the annual family tradition this year, Nick has won once, but according to Kerri, Nick's name has an asterisk next to it on the trophy due to an illegal trade. It's still under review. 

Session five action also saw the Nittany Lions clinch the the NCAA national championship team title, marking Penn State's sixth national championship crown in the last seven years and second consecutive. 

In the grand finale of the three-day event, Penn State's five finalists will square off for individual NCAA national titles beginning at 8 p.m. ET on ESPN. 

"I'm really looking forward to watching all five of our guys in the finals," Nevills said. "I think all five of them have a really good chance of winning and I'm just really excited to watch and I'm super proud of this team.


Reach Arielle at ans26@psu.edu or follow on Twitter @arielle_sargent

NCAA Championships: Session IV Review

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By Arielle Sargent, GoPSUSports.com

ST. LOUIS - As the NCAA Wrestling Championships roll along, with each session comes a greater level of intensity as the stakes continue to rise, making each point critical in the team race.

Carrying its momentum into the evening session, top-ranked Penn State claimed wins in five consecutive semifinal matches, using a dominant showing to clinch an even tighter grip on the total team standings.

Dazzling the 18,344 fans packed inside the Scottrade Center Friday night, Penn State continued to dial up the bonus points advancing a total of five Nittany Lions to the finals for the the fourth time in the last six years (2012, 2013, 2016 and 2017).

Three-time All-American Zain Retherford (149) opened the streak pinning Iowa's No. 5 Brandon Sorensen.

"I felt like I had a secure lock and I had his chin," Retherford said. "There is a position where you're either getting back points or lacking for the fall, and I adjusted and as soon as I adjusted I felt -- I heard the ref say, 30 seconds, and I was like I think I have enough time to do it."

Having already beaten Sorensen on the road at Iowa in the regular season, the two also met in the 2016 NCAA finals, both matches that Retherford re-watched in the hotel before heading into tonight's semifinal matchup.

"I felt way too emotionally drained during the season when we first wrestled," Retherford said. "Last year in the finals I wrestled free, like I like to wrestle and I think I had more fun that way."

Next up, two-time All-American Jason Nolf (157) took down Nebraska's No. 4 Tyler Berger, using a strong third period to capture a 15-3 major decision. All-American Vincenzo Joseph (165) followed with a close 5-4 win off of a late takedown against Michigan's No. 2 Logan Massa.

Penn State's momentum only continued to surge as true freshman All-American Mark Hall (174) rallied late to upset Arizona State's previously undefeated No. 1 Zahid Valencia. Tied at 1-1, Valencia looked to move ahead and capitalize on a takedown as Hall's headgear slipped down his face. With the challenge wiping away the takedown, Hall was awarded the penalty point. A stall point and an escape pulled Valencia closer before Hall finished off the thrilling 4-3 decision with a late takedown. 

The Nittany Lions wrapped up a truly dominant showing in the semifinals with two-time All-American Bo Nickal (184), who pinned Iowa's No. 3 Sammy Brooks at the 1:01 mark for his third fall of the weekend. 

There's no doubt that bonus points have been the key factor separating the Nittany Lions from the rest of the team contenders all weekend long. 

"It's definitely something that we stress to the team, just going out there and using all seven minutes that we have and just score as many points as you possibly can," Nickal said. "So that's something that we try to do and that our coaches definitely let us know how important that is. It really makes a difference in the team race." 

For Nickal though, that's simply who the Nittany Lions are as individuals, and led by head coach Cael Sanderson, Penn State's all-out approach to every single opponent is focused on rising to the occasion, leaving everything on the mat at any given time.

"All we have to do is wrestle seven minutes," Hall said. "We don't dictate what the ref says. We don't dictate the things going on around us. The only thing we can control is how we're going to compete, and at the end of the day, that's what got us five in the finals."

For Penn State, the result has been big time bonus points, with 28.0 in NCAA Tournament action alone, including four majors, eight techs and six pins.

As individual as it seems though, the Nittany Lions are just as committed to each other as a team, keeping things light, loose and ultimately just having fun.  

"I think there are a lot of ways to describe fun, but we enjoy what we're doing," Sanderson said. "They love wrestling. Just because there's a big match on the line, that doesn't mean anything changes. You either love it or you don't, so we just try to enjoy what we're doing, and at the same time prepare these guys to be successful because that's what is the most fun." 

In addition to Penn State's five Nittany Lions competing in the finals Saturday night, Nick Nevills will continue in the consolation semifinals, which begins Saturday at 11 a.m. ET on ESPNU. Saturday evening's finals will begin at 8 p.m. on ESPN.

NCAA Championships Standings - (Finalists/Consolation Semifinal Participants)
1 - PENN STATE - 121.0 (5/1)
2. - Ohio State - 89.5 (2/4)
3. - Oklahoma State - 86.0 (1/6)
4. - Missouri - 81.5 (3/2)
5. - Iowa - 74.0 (1/4)

Up Next
149: #1 Zain Retherford, Jr. - Finals Round (All-American)
Retherford vs. #3 Lavion Mayes, Missouri

157: #1 Jason Nolf, So. - Finals Round (All-American)
Nolf vs. #3 Joey Lavallee, Missouri

165: #3 Vincenzo Joseph, Fr. - Finals Round (All-American)
Joseph vs. #1 Isaiah Martinez, Illinois

174: #5 Mark Hall, Fr. - Finals Round (All-American)
Hall vs. #3 Bo Jordan, Ohio State

184: #2 Bo Nickal, So. - Finals Round (All-American)
Nickal vs. #1 Gabe Dean, Cornell

285: #5 Nick Nevills, So. - Fifth round consolation


Reach Arielle at ans26@psu.edu or follow on Twitter @arielle_sargent

NCAA Championships Session III Review

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By Arielle Sargent, GoPSUSports.com

ST. LOUIS - Following last night's second session, Penn State head coach Cael Sanderson called the upcoming quarterfinals one of the best rounds in the sport of wrestling. Come Friday morning, the Nittany Lions rose to the challenge, blazing through the quarterfinals with a 5-2 mark, finishing session III at 7-2.

Behind big time bonus points, the Nittany Lions stretched its lead in the team standings to 74.0 with Ohio State (59.0) and Iowa (58.0) tightly slotted in spots two and three. Penn State registered 7.5 bonus points in session III to bring its NCAA Championships total to 23.0.

Performing just as consistently as they have in the earlier rounds, Zain Retherford, Jason Nolf and Bo Nickal highlighted the day with a pair of pins and a tech fall to earn a trio of All-America honors.

Retherford built an early lead with a pair of takedowns in the first 30 seconds of the opening period against South Dakota State's Alex Kocer, rolling to the 18-2 tech fall at the 5:13 mark to earn his third-career All-America honor. 

"I would have liked to get a pin out there but he's a tough opponent," Retherford said. "I'm just scoring as much as I can, doing what I can for the team and I'm happy."

Nolf and Nickal picked up a pair of pins in the quarterfinals to earn their second-career All-America nod. Nolf pinned Rider's B.J. Clagon at the 4:06 mark, while Nickal capitalized on a cradle pin Nebraska's No. 7 TJ Dudley at the 4:33 mark. 

Penn State also saw a pair of freshman earn All-American distinction in addition to a spot in tonight's semifinals.

Following a tough 4-2 sudden victory loss in the finals at the Big Ten Championships two weeks ago in Bloomington, Indiana, true freshman Mark Hall has kept his silver medal open on his desk every day. For Hall, it's motivation.

In Friday's quarterfinals, Hall came out firing, building a 9-0 lead before finishing off Virginia Tech's No. 4 Zach Epperly with a 10-2 major.

"I blew the match wide open to begin with but there's still some improving I can do, keep scoring, getting off bottom after takedowns and things like that," Hall said. 

Along with earning the All-America honor, much like the silver medal, Hall remains focused on the ultimate goal, which now means semifinals, but ultimately extends to Saturday night. 

"Those things are what I'm looking at and I just want to wrestle as hard as I can for seven minutes and keep going," Hall said.

Along with Hall, redshirt freshman Vincenzo Joseph earned his first-career All-America honor, putting on a gritty performance, battling to a dramatic 6-5 win in front of the hometown crowd against Missouri's No. 6 Daniel Lewis.

Trailing 5-4 with less than 10 seconds remaining, Joseph used a clutch takedown to secure the thrilling win.

"The more tired I got, I knew that he was more tired than I was so I was confident that if I got to my late attack I'd score," Joseph said.

With an all or nothing mentality, Joseph fought from behind as Lewis jumped out to a 2-0 advantage before building 2:22 in riding time heading into the second period. 

"I was tired, he was tired but I knew I had to get it," Joseph said. "It's a big deal for our team to send a lot of guys to the semis so I had to make sure that I got the job done." 

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All five Nittany Lions will move on to tonight's semifinal round, set to begin at 8 p.m. ET live on ESPN. Matt McCutcheon, Nick Nevills and Jimmy Gulibon will all compete in the fourth round consolations, needing just one more win for All-America honors.

Up Next

141:  Jimmy Gulibon, Sr. - Fourth round consolation

149: #1 Zain Retherford, Jr. - Semifinal Round (All-American)
Retherford vs. #5 Brandon Sorensen, Iowa

157: #1 Jason Nolf, So. - Semifinal Round (All-American)
Nolf vs. #4 Tyler Berger, Nebraska 

165: #3 Vincenzo Joseph, Fr. - Semifinal Round (All-American)
Joseph vs. vs. #2 Logan Massa, Michigan

174: #5 Mark Hall, Fr. - Semifinal Round (All-American)
Hall vs. #1 Zahid Valencia, Arizona State 

184: #2 Bo Nickal, So. - Semifinal Round (All-American)
Nickal vs. #3 Sammy Brooks, Iowa

197: #5 Matt McCutcheon, Jr. - Fourth round consolation

285: #5 Nick Nevills, So. - Fourth round consolation

Reach Arielle at ans26@psu.edu or follow on Twitter @arielle_sargent

NCAA Championships: Session II Review

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By Arielle Sargent, GoPSUSports.com

ST. LOUIS - Penn State wrestling continued its momentum into the evening session Thursday night, closing out the second session of the 2017 NCAA Wrestling Championships with a 7-1 mark to move to 15-1 overall in the event.

NCAA Championships Standings after Session II - (Quarterfinal Participants)
1 - PENN STATE - 30.5 (7)
2. - Ohio State - 26.0 (5)
3. - Oklahoma State - 25.5 (7)
4. -  Iowa - 24.5 (6)
5. - Missouri - 20.0 (5) 

"I think overall guys are wrestling well, they're having a good time," Penn State head coach Cael Sanderson said.

Bonus points continued to be the key component for the Nittany Lions, who scored bonus points on 10 of 15 total wins across the first day of action at the Scottrade Center.

Junior Zain Retherford opened up the bonus point scoring for the Nittany Lions in the second session, downing Princeton's No. 16 Jordan Laster with a 16-0 technical fall at the 5:43 mark.

Sophomore Jason Nolf quickly followed with another tech fall, taking down Bucknell's No. 16 Victor Lopez. Leading by just one, 4-3, heading into the second period, Nolf broke open the score in the final two periods, cruising to a 24-9 technical fall at the 7:00 mark with 2:50 in riding time.

"That's the way it's kind of got to be sometimes because guys will just hold on to your elbows and try to slow you down but ultimately it doesn't work because they get really tired and that's why I train to get a lot of takedowns just because sometimes that back points aren't there, even though I got a set," Nolf said. "You just have to be in good condition to get a bunch of takedowns if you have to because you know the other guy is going to be tired."

In just his second NCAA Championships matchup, Mark Hall put on a dominant showing, posting a 16-0 technical fall at the 2:20 mark against Navy's Jadaen Bernstein. Having earned the tough decision in the opening round, Hall took control early in the second round and never looked back.

"I think you need a warm up match and being in an environment like this again, it's a little different than what I'm used to and just to go out and have fun, that was the biggest thing, having fun," Hall said.

Sanderson was also pleased from what he saw from the true freshman

"He did a nice job," Sanderson said. "He did a nice job transitioning from tilt to turn to turn tilt and when you're scoring four points, it gets up there quick."

Bo Nickal highlighted the second round with Penn State's second fall of the day, pinning Binghamton's No. 15 Steven Schneider at the 5:33 mark.

"I've seen Nolf do that move 1,000 times so I was thinking I'm going to push on his head, he's going to reach up and I'm going to put him on his back," Nickal said. 

It's been all about consistency for Retherford, Nolf and Nickal in day one of the three-day event, as the trio combined for five tech falls and a pin in the first day of action. 

"All three of them wrestled great, all three of them scored bonus points in the six matches that they wrestled, but there are big matches tomorrow," Sanderson said. "These points are very small compared to the points that are awarded the next two days."

Penn State now shifts its focus to the upcoming quarterfinals, advancing a total of seven wrestlers, with Vincenzo Joseph, Matt McCutcheon and Nick Nevills also earning wins the second round.

"It gets tough," Sanderson said. "It's going to get more difficult tomorrow, a lot of big matches, quarterfinals - that's one of the best rounds in the sport of wrestling so it will be a lot of fun."

Keeping things light and fun is signature to the Penn State style, as Nolf noted that opportunity all comes down to gratitude.

"I think just being grateful for the opportunity and being excited and blessed that we get to share this experience together as teammates and with our coaches and everything," Nolf said.  "So it should be a lot of fun."

Penn State remains atop the team standings (30.5) with Ohio State (26.0) and Oklahoma State (25.5) close behind in the top three. 

The Nittany Lions return to action Friday, March 17 opening session III action at 11 a.m. ET at the Scottrade Center. All action will broadcast live on ESPNU.

Up Next

141:  Jimmy Gulibon, Sr. - Wrestlebacks
Gulibon vs. vs. Timmy Box, Northern Colorado

149: #1 Zain Retherford, Jr. - Quarterfinal Round
Retherford vs. Alex Kocer, South Dakota State

157: #1 Jason Nolf, So. - Quarterfinal Round
Nolf vs. vs. B.J. Clagon, Rider

165: #3 Vincenzo Joseph, Fr. - Quarterfinal Round
Joseph vs. vs. #6 Daniel Lewis, Missouri 

174: #5 Mark Hall, Fr. - Quarterfinal Round
Hall vs. #4 Zach Epperly, Virginia Tech 

184: #2 Bo Nickal, So. - Quarterfinal Round
Nickal vs. #7 TJ Dudley, Nebraska

197: #5 Matt McCutcheon, Jr. - Quarterfinal Round
McCutcheon vs. #4 Jared Haught, Virginia Tech

285: #5 Nick Nevills, So. - Quarterfinal Round
Nevills vs. #4 Jacob Kasper, Duke

Reach Arielle at ans26@psu.edu or follow on Twitter @arielle_sargent

NCAA Championships: Session I Review

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By Arielle Sargent, GoPSUSports.com

ST. LOUIS - Top-seeded Penn State wrestling got right to work in the opening session of the 2017 NCAA Wrestling Championships. The Nittany Lions wrestled to a solid 8-0 start in first round matches, wasting no time tallying up the bonus points with four tech falls and a pin.

"You want to come out there and fire on all cylinders and treat it like any other match," sophomore Bo Nickal said. "That's how we treat every match, just go out there and start off strong, finish strong."

The "start off strong, finish strong mentality" is exactly what the Nittany Lions embraced as senior Jimmy Gulibon opened session I for the Nittany Lions with a bang. The 2015 All-American raced out to an 18-3 tech fall with 3:26 in riding time against Michigan State's Javier Gasca at 141. Gulibon went up 5-0 in the first period and never looked back.

"All I have to say is Jimmy Gulibon," redshirt freshman Vincenzo Joseph said. "He's awesome, he's a national title contender and he has been every year he has wrestled."

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At 149, top-seeded junior Zain Retherford took the same approach, building a 4-0 lead in the opening frame before rolling to an 18-2 tech fall at 4:55 against Arizona State's Joshua Maruca.

Sophomore Jason Nolf, ranked No. 1 at 157 quickly followed with a 22-7 tech fall at the 7:00 mark against NC State's Thomas Bullard to give the Nittany Lions a trio of tech falls in consecutive matches for 4.5 bonus points right from the start.

Second-seeded Nickal later added to the bonus point total with a dominating 15-0 technical fall at the 3:20 mark against Northwestern's Mitch Silga at 184. With a takedown in the first minute of action, Nickal never relinquished control, registering Penn State's fourth tech fall of the afternoon.

"It felt good, I got a takedown, got on top," Nickal said. "I have to work on my turns a little bit, I don't usually get to work the turns because I'm getting a lot of takedowns and stuff like that, so I was glad that I got to go out there and work a little bit on top and score some bonus points for my team." 

Fifth-seeded Matt McCutcheon punctuated the first session with Penn State's first fall of the event, pinning Purdue's Christian Brunner at the 1:53 mark.

"I just got in a little scramble when I was in on a shot and held on a little bit too long and I ended up catching both his shoulders on the mat," McCutcheon said. "I'm just happy to do it."

In total, Penn State registered 8.0 bonus points to rise to the top spot in the team standings at the end of the first session (16.0), leading second place Oklahoma State by one (15.0) and third place Ohio State by two (14.0).

NCAA Championships Standings after Session I - (Round Two Participants)
1 - PENN STATE - 16.0 (8)
2 - Oklahoma State - 15.0 (9)
3 -  Ohio State - 14.0 (7)
4- Iowa - 12.0 (7)
    Lehigh - 12.0 (5)
    Missouri - 12.0 (6)

Three other Nittany Lions made their NCAA Championships debuts, with true freshman Mark Hall (174), redshirt freshman Vincenzo Joseph (165) and sophomore Nick Nevills (285) all posting first round wins. 

Joseph, a No. 3 seed, earned a 5-1 decision against Stanford's Keaton Subjeck. At 0-0 headed into the second period, used a pair of late takedowns in the next two periods for the win.

"I was a little nervous going into the match, first national championship, and I was kind of feeling a little weight on me, but he's a tricky wrestler, he's a tough guy so I was trying to avoid exposing myself in bad positions and that's probably why the score was a little lower that I would have liked it," Joseph said. 

In front of 18,157 at the Scottrade Center, Joseph felt no pressure from the packed crowd, relying on experiences from the season to maintain focus. 

"I think the matches that we wrestled this year really helped me, the Bryce Jordan Center, Oklahoma State, Ohio State, Iowa - those matches they really filled the crowd and it's loud the whole time and it really gets you ready for an environment like this," Joseph said.

Hall, the No. 5 seed at 174, took down South Dakota State's David Kocer in an 8-2 decision before third-seeded Nick Nevills rounded out the opening session with a 4-2 decision against Lehigh's Doug Vollaro.

Nevills used a late third-period push with :40 on the the clock to send Penn State into tonight's second session with a perfect 8-0 mark.

"I was just trying to get my feet moving and didn't really move them well enough early on in the the match and you could see that he didn't get as tired as I would have liked him to," Nevills said. "But I still got him tired enough where I could get in on that shot and get in that position and just able to finish and get that takedown there."

It's all about momentum now as Penn State preps for session II, which kicks off at 7 p.m. ET in the Scottrade Center, broadcasting live on ESPN. 

"It's very exciting, we're doing it for the team so we've just got to score as many bonus points as we can and I think we did a good job of that so far and we've got to keep the momentum going," McCutcheon said.

Up Next

141:  Jimmy Gulibon, Sr. - Second Round
Gulibon vs. vs. #4 Matt Kolodzik, Princeton 

149: #1 Zain Retherford, Jr. - Second Round
Retherford vs. No. 16 Jordan Laster, Princeton 

157: #1 Jason Nolf, So. - Second Round
Nolf vs. #16 Victor Lopez, Bucknell 

165: #3 Vincenzo Joseph, Fr. - Second Round
Joseph vs. #14 Branson Ashworth, Wyoming

174: #5 Mark Hall, Fr. - Second Round
Hall vs. Jadaen Bernstein, Navy

184: #2 Bo Nickal, So. - Second Round
Nickal vs. #15 Steven Schneider, Binghamton

197: #5 Matt McCutcheon, Jr. - Second Round
McCutcheon vs. #12 Frank Mattiace, Penn

285: #5 Nick Nevills, So. - Second Round
Nevills vs. #12 William Miller, Edinboro


Reach Arielle at ans26@psu.edu or follow on Twitter @arielle_sargent

NCAA Press Conference Update

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By Arielle Sargent, GoPSUSports.com

ST. LOUIS - On the eve of the opening session of the 2017 NCAA Wrestling Championships, Penn State head coach Cael Sanderson and Nittany Lion Zain Retherford joined select wrestlers and head coaches from the field for a media session at the Scottrade Center.

With question and answer segments in two different press conferences, both Sanderson and Retherford fielded questions from a packed room of media members.

Check out the top four takeaways from the sessions below.

To Win This Tournament You've Got to Wrestle Great
Penn State is poised to enter the NCAA Championships hungry to win it all, having stressed earlier this week that despite what happened at the Big Ten Championships, adjustments will be made and mindsets will be right come Thursday. 

"I don't think we wrestled terribly at the Big Ten," Sanderson said. "We had a couple of guys who could have won a match or two that they didn't. But we won some tough matches also. So it's not that we didn't wrestle well, we just got beat. Ohio State wrestled great. And to win this tournament you've got to wrestle great. That's the way it should be. It's a national tournament. You want to be national champions, you've got to wrestle great the weekend of the national championships."

Suriano Sidelined for NCAA Championships
Just a few minutes before the press conferences, Penn State announced that true freshman Nick Suriano would not be able to compete in this year's NCAA Championships due to an injury. Suriano, who sustained the injury at Oklahoma State in the NWCA Dual Championship, earned an at-large bid after an injury default in the first round of the Big Ten Championships two weeks ago. 

 "We were trying to give him as much time as possible," Sanderson said. "It was going to be a day-before type of decision and we were trying to get him to a point where he would be competitive enough to compete and to protect himself and I don't feel like he's in that position so he's not going to wrestle."

Although sidelined, Suriano has the full support of his teammates and coaches, who all noted that there's no place he'd rather be than competing this weekend, especially with the signature competitive drive fans have seen all season from the true freshman. 

"You get hurt," Sanderson said. "Injuries happen. Life happens, but life is good. Life is good. Nick has a lot to be grateful for. And he has three years to terrorize college wrestling and international wrestling after that. It is what it is. He got injured. It happens and life goes on."

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Out of Adversity Comes Opportunity
With Suriano unable to compete, Sanderson also noted that it's the perfect time for the rest of Penn State's eight NCAA qualifiers to step up and find ways to tally up the bonus points. 

The Nittany Lions have plenty of options when it comes to bonus point potential, most notably in top-seeded Nittany Lions Jason Nolf (157) and Retherford (149). Retherford, who captured the NCAA crown last year is 23-0 on the year with 16 pins, three tech falls and a major. Nolf, who finished as an NCAA finalist last year, is 22-0 on the year with 13 pins, six tech falls and one major. Both also highlighted the Big Ten Championships with a pair of individual titles.

Retherford Reflects
In 2015, Retherford was on the sidelines with the Nittany Lions at the Scottrade Center for the NCAA Championships. Redshirting the season 2015 after a fifth-place finish at the NCAA Championships in 2014 at 141, Retherford went on to win the title in 2016 at 149. Now back in St. Louis, this time he'll have the opportunity to earn yet another championship, brining with him a few new things when it comes to style.

"You have to keep growing and learning," Retherford said. "So I guess everywhere I've been trying to add new things, trying new things and matches if I can. And I guess that's the way I've grown and mentally as well, being a little more patient. Being patient but still scoring at the same time."


Reach Arielle at ans26@psu.edu or follow on Twitter @arielle_sargent

Nittany Lions Prepare For NCAA Showdown

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By Brandon Pelter, GoPSUsports.com student staff writer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Following a second-place finish for Penn State wrestling at the Big Ten Tournament, the Nittany Lions have a chance at redemption on the grand stage, the NCAA Tournament.

Just two weeks ago Penn State had three wrestlers make it to the finals, but this weekend the Nittany Lions are seeking more, having taken the last two weeks to prepare for the upcoming three-day event.

"We didn't win the Big Ten, but we didn't come back and panic," Penn State head coach Cael Sanderson said. "We just got beat. Our guys for the most part wrestled well. But, this is the time. If the team wants to win it's real simple, we just have to go score more points than the next team, there really isn't any secret to it."

For Sanderson, sometimes the Big Ten Tournament is one of the best ways to prepare for a national championship run.

"A lot of times the Big Ten Tournament is the best preparation," Sanderson said. "If you train correctly and you have the right mindset that's great preparation for what we're heading into now.

After freshman Nick Suriano injury defaulted out of the Big Ten Tournament, he received an at-large bid and his teammates say he is ready to go.

"He's looking pretty good," junior Matt McCutcheon said. "He's wrestling hard and he's a tough kid. We're all excited for him and I know he's excited. He's going to go out there and compete as hard as he can and that's all we're going to ask of him"

Zain Retherford is one of two Nittany Lions with the top seed in their bracket, also one of eight Penn State wrestlers heading to St. Louis with a top five seed. With a total of nine NCAA qualifiers, there's little doubt that every wrestler will be ready to go.

"All the kids are pretty fresh and hungry to compete," Retherford said. "There are a couple guys that haven't been there yet so I think they're even fine and they're excited. The energy is good we just have to go do it now."

Vincenzo Joseph will be looking to make a run in his first NCAA tournament and will face a tough test to begin. Joseph will square off with Stanford's Keaton Subjeck, who he lost to earlier this season in his Rec Hall debut.

"I had a feeling that was going to happen so I was pretty excited," Joseph said. "But I just have to take it like another match."

Mark Hall, also true freshman for the Nittany Lions will be appearing in his first NCAA tournament along with Suriano, making him yet another important piece if Penn State wants to win the team title.

"Mark's looking great," Sanderson said. "He really wrestled great in the Big Ten Tournament. He knows he's a gamer and this is the game, this is the big game."

While Penn State may seem like a veteran team, coming off of an NCAA title last year, the Nittany Lions actually only feature three upperclassmen, with just one senior, Jimmy Gulibon. Four wrestlers will make their national tournament debut come Thursday.

"It's pretty exciting," sophomore Nick Nevills said. "I'm really looking forward to getting to wrestle in my first NCAA tournament and represent the Nittany Lions."

Although Nevills will be debuting on the mats, he has been to the NCAA Championships nearly 10 times, first attending the event when he was in seventh grade. Nevills is focused on making minor adjustments leading up to the event, especially coming off a strong showing that the Big Ten Tournament.

"I am who I am and I think you can make really small, minor adjustments," Nevills said. "I don't think you're going to change an entire philosophy or change an entire style over a week and if you did I don't know if that would be helpful. Right now the hay is in the barn and the ship is ready to roll so we just have to roll out."

While the Nittany Lions are set to compete in St. Louis they know they'll have a strong following, and plenty of vocal Penn State supporters in attendance.

"It's awesome when you see the bus loads of people coming out and supporting you in the stands it adds an extra level of excitement for you and it gives you another reason to go out and compete even harder," McCutcheon said. "They traveled everywhere with us this year so a big thanks to them for helping us as a team."

The 2017 NCAA Wrestling Championships begin with Session I action at 10 a.m. in the Scottrade Center.

"This has been a great team and we want to finish with a great effort," Sanderson said. "Great moments come from great opportunities, I think this is a great opportunity and we're looking forward to it."

This Week in Penn State Wrestling

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By Arielle Sargent, GoPSUSports.com

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Penn State wrestling is healthy, happy and excited heading into the pinnacle of the 2016-17 season, nationals week.

As Nittany Lion head coach Cael Sanderson says, it's a good time to be alive as Penn State preps for the 2017 NCAA Wrestling Championships in St. Louis, seeking its sixth title in the last seven years.

Among nine national qualifiers, Penn State earned eight top five seeds, including two No. 1 seeds. Monday afternoon, Sanderson met with members of the media to preview Penn State's upcoming trip to the Scottrade Center.

Check out a few updates from the media session.

Time to Respond
While Sanderson noted that the Nittany Lions certainly want to win the Big Ten, the big picture both as a team and individually, is winning the national championship, and Penn State won't be spending time dwelling on the Big Ten Tournament.

"I don't think it really changes much," Sanderson said. "Our guys know, you get to pick and choose how you compete, how you're going to think, how you're going to act and you can use that to your advantage and go out there and be at your best or you can allow yourself to be distracted by for whatever reason, by whatever thing, and I think that's one of the great things about sports."

For Sanderson, the key to finding success is simply focusing on one match at a time, scoring one point at time, with the focus now fully shifted toward what's immediately in front of the team.

"I'm excited to see how our guys respond and react and how they choose to compete this week," Sanderson said. "I'm excited just like everyone else is."

On Seedings and Pairings
Although the Nittany Lions know their individual matchups, regardless of seeding and draws though, Sanderson noted that those types of things simply aren't the focus headed into competition.

"We don't focus too much on our draws," Sanderson said. "We do want to be aware of being prepared obviously, not over prepared but ready to go."

Sanderson pointed out that after initially looking at the bracket, he didn't look for the next few days, urging the team to do the same. As natural as it might be to look a little further ahead, every competitor is different in their preparation. 

Freshmen at the NCAAs
Among Penn State's nine national qualifiers, true freshmen Nick Suriano and Mark Hall are poised to make their NCAA debut. Hall completed the Big Ten Tournament with a runner up finish, now seeded No. 5 at 174, set to meet South Dakota State's David Kocer in the first round

Following the tournament, Sanderson noted that Hall proved he has as good a chance as anyone when it comes to title implications.

"He knows, he's a gamer and this is the game, this is the big game," Sanderson said. "Everything has been preparation up to this point. His goal is to win the nationals obviously, and to win as a freshman. He won't be the first if he wins and he won't be the last, freshmen win a lot and they're going to win more and more as we move forward in our sport."

For Sanderson, Hall is the type of Nittany Lion who gets to pick and choose whether or not he wins - all adding to the excitement coming from both Sanderson and Hall. 

Frequent Contenders
With NCAA titles in five of the last six years, Penn State wrestling has seen nearly every tournament scenario, from favorite to underdog and evenly matched. For Sanderson though, each NCAA tournament doesn't make competing for the crown any easier.
 

"It certainly doesn't get any easier," Sanderson said. "I think your expectation and you just expect to win all the time, it's easy as a coach to just focus on winning and losing also, which is something that you don't to do and you don't want your kids focus on winning and losing, you want them focusing on performance and effort and the things that we can control." 

With the potential and the opportunity to win it all for another consecutive season, Penn State will board the plane for St. Louis from Pittsburgh early this afternoon before arriving on location.

TV Coverage
ESPN and its networks will have a host of coverage options for fans throughout the three-day event. 

ESPNU will have live Session I coverage beginning at noon on Thursday, with Session II coverage set for 7 p.m. on ESPN. Friday's Session III championship quarterfinals and consolations will air live on ESPNU at 11 a.m. with Session IV semifinals airing live on ESPN at 8 p.m. 

Saturday's championship medal Round (Session V) will air on ESPNU at 11 a.m. with the finals (Session VI) set for an 8 p.m. start on ESPN.

Reach Arielle at ans26@psu.edu or follow on Twitter @arielle_sargent

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